The Martin Barre Interview

By Shawn Perry

When one thinks of Jethro Tull, it's difficult to suppress the image of the group's singular constant: Ian Anderson. The real muscle behind the machinery, however, has generally fallen onto the shoulders of Tull's resident chopmeister: Martin Barre. Appearing on every Tull album but the first one, Barre has been unwavering in his execution as a first-rate guitarist in every sense of the word. And after so many years, it seems as if he's just getting started.

Ian Anderson has frequently said there would be no Jethro Tull without Martin Barre. He knows that the guitar is an essential ingredient of the Tull sound. It is unmistakably unique. If the band could ever be commended for its incisive edge, Barre -- one of a few guitarists who used to sport a monocle and cigarette holder -- should stand up and take a bow. Unfortunately, he has never been given the opportunity to do so.

I waited for an hour or so to speak with the guitarist in a backstage lounge of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, a magnificent symphony hall. How proper for Tull! After tossing back a mouthful of coffee and catching Anderson, bassist Jonathon Noyce, and keyboardist Andrew Giddings chatting away in the corner of my eye, Barre came in quickly and went straight for the sweets. He apologized for running late, which he wasn't really, and suggested we go somewhere private within the confines of the venue to talk. We ended up in a loading dock on some picnic benches. Barre -- freshly tan, sprite and youthful -- tackled a brownie. I took cover and fired away with my first question.

Let me start by asking: How does it feel to have been with Jethro Tull for over 30 years?

I'm very proud of it and I've worked very hard at doing it justice. On the other hand, it doesn't own me. I'm a free spirit. I like to do my own things. I like other music. I like to play other music. I won't let it own me and become my whole persona. But I respect it very much.

When you joined the band, you just missed appearing on the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus. But once you were in, you guys went on the road with Hendrix. Did you get to know him very well?

Not really. He was a very private person. We played with him a lot and would exchange pleasantries. He never really came up to us and we didn't with him. He was a bit quiet. It was scary and exhilarating for me to be on the same bill as him because I'd just joined the band. In that first year, we played with people like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. There wasn't anyone we didn't play with except Eric Clapton. For some reason, we never crossed paths with him.

I've read that your eclectic style got you the job with Tull. So I'm assuming the influences are far and few between.

I love classical music. A melody, a compositional thing. I love harmonic structures. I love the creation of melody and dynamics. I find all that in classical music. In other areas, it's in limited amounts. In rock music, it almost doesn't exist anymore. I like Sting, Nik Kershaw and Jackson Browne. I love good songs. And if there's some great guitar playing in it, that's a bonus.

Living With The Past has Ian reuniting with the original group. Is there any chance of you and Ian reuniting with Barriemore Barlow, John Evan and Jeffrey Hammond -- or perhaps other former members -- for a one-off gig?

I don't think so. For so many different reasons. To a lesser degree, for personal reasons. To a greater degree, some of those guys just don't play anymore, and haven't for a long, long time. We tried to get Jeffrey (childhood friend of Ian Anderson and Tull bassist from 1972-77) to play with us just for one number a little while ago and he just wouldn't do it. I think the only historical line-up with any significance is the original one.

Going through Living With The Past, I get the impression that the present line-up is very solid. How would you compare it to previous line-ups?

I think the personalities are more solid. And musically it's a lot more solid. To say anything other than that would be a serious insult to the guys who were in the band before. In the past, Jethro Tull had more of a band identity. Everybody knew the crazy guy in white suit (referring to former keyboardist John Evan). Most of the audience knew everybody. Nowadays, most of the audience doesn't know everybody. I'm afraid the promotion tends to pinpoint Ian -- and for very practical reasons -- cause he's the image of the group, the spokesperson 99% of the time. So it snowballs. The more that happens, the less the general public is aware of the rest of the band.

Ian says on the DVD that he can see Tull carrying on for another 10 years. Do you share his opinion?

If Ian says so, then we will (laughs). Jethro Tull has been around for 34 years. On the one hand, I hope I'm there in 10 years time. On the other hand, 34 years ago who would have thought it would have lasted? If you like working, it's a good gig. I'm sure we'd all like to be around in 10 years time.

On J-Tull Dot Com, your last studio album, you co-wrote "Hot Mango Flush" with Ian. Was this the first time you and he had written together?

No. I've done bits and pieces on albums. Sometimes it's a riff; sometimes it's a little segment of music. A lot of people think that Jethro Tull is all about a songwriter called Ian Anderson, and if you take that songwriter away, will it still be Jethro Tull? I don't mind taking a small role in the writing, and a larger input into the arrangement and playing.

On Roots To Branches, you guys delved into some interesting world music styles. Any plans of taking that any further?

I don't think we follow a path really. I think each album goes in a certain direction. I think it's all about changing, and keeping things moving. It's a healthy way to work.

Any plans for a new Jethro Tull studio album?

Not in the near future. It will happen eventually, out of the necessity that we'll need new material. But we're a touring band. At the moment, we're doing the right thing with the DVD.

You've released two solo albums, but your first one didn't come out until the 90s. Had you ever toyed with the idea of doing a solo record before that?

Yeah. I've written a lot of music, but I always thought that a solo album had to stand up to the standards of a Tull album. I guess I could have gotten a few mates in the studio, done a bit of rock n' roll and had a few beers. But that would have been a waste! I've written, recorded, scrapped, written, recorded, scrapped. I've done it many, many times. And then I finally thought I had something I could actually say 'here's my album and I like it' (laughs). And I stand by it.

Any plans for another solo album?

Oh yeah. I've got more material. As time dictates, when I have a time slot to do it, I'll do it. If I have a month free to write and record, then that's how I'll do it.

I'd like to go through a few Tull songs where your guitar work is fairly prominent and get your input on how you came up with the part and what it meant within the context of the song. Let's start with Sweet Dream...

It was written by Ian. It was recorded totally live, other than vocals. We added an orchestra later. It was a very early one; there were a lot of changes in it for that era. It was intended to be a single.

Hymn 43?

That was at Island studios. It was also totally live. I even took the solo. I remember the manager walking into the room and asking me to redo it. I hadn't been in the band that long, but I said I liked it. This guy wasn't a musician at all. So I asked Clive (Bunker, drummer): 'What do you think of it?' And he said 'I like it.' Then I turned to Glenn (Cornick, bassist): 'What do you think of it?' And he liked it. So I said 'I'm not redoing it.' And it stayed as is (laughs).

Cross-Eyed Mary?

I recorded it with an amp that was about six inches by four inches. I bought it from a guy walking down the street with a guitar in one hand and an amp in the other. I just asked him if he'd sell it to me; it looked like an old radio. I've still got it.

Locomotive Breath?

That was a difficult one to record. We had problems getting a good backing track. It wasn't a successful track in the studio for me.


It was just one of the tracks off the album. Guitar Player magazine did a poll of the Top 100 solos, and that one came in at number 25. It meant a lot to me. I don't get a lot of recognition, but I don't seek it either. Still, it's nice to get a little 'thank you' once in awhile.

Minstrel In The Gallery?

It was done in Monte Carlo and I wrote the long intro. It was an important track, but it never really worked live. We did it a long time ago and it was very messy. It's one of those tracks everyone wants to hear, but we never play it.

Farm On The Freeway?

Crest Of A Knave was really Ian, Dave Pegg and me. We recorded the whole album. It was all very intimate. It was great for me because there was a lot of room for guitar, mainly because we didn't have a keyboard player at the time (laughs). It was a lot of fun to work on that album.

One more: Hunt By Numbers?

That was a fun track. It had a lot of riffing. We don't do a lot of guitar riffing these days. It's nice to play on stage because it gives you a little breather. I mean if we do something like "Heavy Horses," it's all concentration. But this is an easy one.

What is your proudest moment as a member of Jethro Tull?

You'd think the Grammy, but we weren't there. I feel a bit cheated by that. I would have liked to have gone on stage and taken a bow. I really feel that will never happen again...well, maybe (snickers). It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but it was very played down, to be nominated for a Grammy. 'Right, are you gonna fly us out?' 'No, that won't be necessary.' It was a real shame. I would have loved to have been there. I would have worn a bow tie.

Jethro Tull has played all over Europe, America, parts of Asia and Latin America. What's left?

China, Taiwan, Russia. There are a lot of countries we haven't been to. Eventually they'll be on the itinerary. We like traveling. We like to go to places other people don't think about going to. We traditionally play the territories where no one else will go (laughs). Not because it's dangerous but because it's unproven. We were in South America before other bands went. Things broke down, travel was a nightmare, we didn't get paid...everything was totally in shambles. You'd play a concert and there's 50,000 kids who've never sat and listened to music like this before. And they went ape shit!

I understand you're a runner. Do you get much running in when you're on the road?

I make time for it. I make sure if I have a couple hours off that one of those hours is spent running. I go about five a day. Running is a release. It's a private moment for me. The tension just disappears. It's quite nice to have a different vacation every day. Good fun.

Martin, you've had a successful and long run in a business that takes out the trash every six months. You've got the Grammy, toured the world many times over, and have a few gold and platinum records. Musically, is there anything you haven't done that you would still like to do?

Personally, I'd like to have an album that was successful for myself. I toured once with my own band in Germany, and I'd like to do that in America and England. In principal, I'd like to do everything Jethro Tull has done. Of course, I never will. It's totally impossible. But there's all that I'd like to do. I'd also like to do some film music. That would be a dream come true. Even to play with other people. I really would. There's a lot out there. I've just touched the tip of the iceberg.

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